Saturday, July 13, 2024

Behind the Scenes of CIFF Gidget Comes to Coronado – July 12 and 13

Gidget at Malibu 1957, photographed by Ernst Lenart.

The Coronado Island Film Festival is putting on two can’t miss fundraising events this July surrounding the iconic surf icon Gidget. Originally a book in 1957, Gidget was turned into a rom-com film in 1959, followed by a one-season sitcom in 1965. The book was reprinted in 2001, and a documentary based on Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, the original inspiration for Gidget, was released in 2010. This story that clearly captures the heart of America has proven timeless.

An Interview with Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman

Talking with Kathy, the line is blurred between what is fiction and what is reality in the best seller written by her father, Frederick Kohner. In today’s age of female surfers, it might be assumed that Kathy continued surfing all her life. But she tells her own story, “I basically surfed my teenage years, then I went away to college. In the summer of 1959, I went to Hawaii and I got to surf there. But by 1960, I was on to foreign movies and poetry readings. It was on the fringe of the beatnik era, so I think I’d stopped catching any waves pretty much in the early ’60s.”

On Working with her Father

“Gidget” book cover. Written by Kathy’s father Frederick Kohler.

Kathy recalls a very positive relationship with her father and how writing the book brought them closer. “[Gidget] is not totally made-up. This is coming from the daughter’s living experience with a dad who is a professional screenwriter. He wrote the book in the kitchen in three weeks.”

She shares how much it meant to have her dad interested in hearing the story of his teenage daughter. “It wasn’t as though we had actual working times together. I would just sort of tell him stories about Malibu, and my crush on Bill Jensen, who was in Coronado actually when we showed the movie a number of years ago. I wouldn’t say that I was going into my dad’s study and saying, ‘okay now we’re going to talk for an hour.’ It was banter at the dinner table or when we took a walk. It was just sharing about the boys and learning to ride a wave.”

On the different endings of the book versus film, Kathy says, “I was just a woman in love with a surfboard, which is the last line of the novel. At the ending of the Gidget film, she gets pinned with the love interest and they walk off into the sunset together. So romantic, boy gets girl and they live happily ever after. But that’s not the end of the novel. She’s just a woman in love with a surfboard, I like there that are two different endings.”

Gidget Comes to Coronado

While Kathy is very much looking forward to “Gidget Comes to Coronado” — the showing of the original Gidget and the Gidget documentary, she half jokes that the only thing she is not looking forward to is driving the 405. As to the excitement surrounding the event, Kathy shares, “I think it’ll be a lot of fun to see happy faces and feel a lot of Aloha. Who wouldn’t want that? I’ve been there [Coronado] before and there’s a great, lovely feeling of familiarity. It’s positive as a newbie once, but twice is grand. I like that.”

The Timelessness of Gidget

Kathy has worked hard to keep the story alive. She says, “It was an amazing feat that we could get that book reissued. I remember when the agent in New York told me I needed to learn how to become a public speaker. If I couldn’t go to surf club meetings and ingratiate myself with the surfing world, they’d have a one-print run and then it would be the end. I’ve worked for the last 20 years really, really hard in getting my dad’s story out and getting to know the surf culture some more. Getting to know really fabulous people that are very active in the surf community. It’s been like an extended family. They’ve accepted me and I feel a great deal of warmth and much Aloha.”

Kathy’s Next Chapter

The story of Gidget isn’t over yet. Kathy teases what’s next, “I am working with a writer, and we read all my diary pages. We put the pages in a format sheet for a book to be published. It’s kind of fun because I wrote down what I did every day at Malibu, who was there and what the surf was like. It gets a little whiff of what it was like for me to be a 15, 16 year old among the board riders of Malibu.” A release date has not yet been announced.

Interview with Brian Gillogly, the filmmaker of the documentary, “Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story”

“Accidental Icon” movie poster

Brian and Kathy’s Story

Brian describes Kathy, “She’s a character. I didn’t know it until we got involved with the documentary, even though I met her circa ’81. I had gravitated toward doing pieces for Surfer Magazine when they were on top of the world. Somebody suggested to interview Gidget, I was totally clueless about that. I met her and I was really intrigued. Just the way her story evolved, indicating this larger than life thing.”

Brian’s take was that her story was interesting, but it really hadn’t been told very well. “The whole golden nuance of her relationship with her father. At one point, and this is devil’s advocate, when I was interviewing her, I said, ‘did you ever feel like your father was exploiting you?’ She got pissed, ‘he wasn’t exploiting me, I was exploiting him.’ It’s a great story and I almost thought it was a theatrical story that could be made into a movie itself.”

The Making of “Accidental Icon”

Brian states, “Gidget says this is a true historical document, I was kind of going for pop culture. It doesn’t have to be profound; it just has to be fun and entertaining. But the way people responded to this, especially women but also some men, was a big deal. It wasn’t a passing thing, this was profound.”

He continues, “We started shooting around the year 2000, it was a significant event when the reissue of the book came out. We had a lot of a lot of opportunities to shoot and also these older surfers, from Malibu especially, came out of the woodwork. We saw her interacting with them and that was great footage.”

Brian’s Must-Interview Surfer List

Brian knew he wanted to interview multi-time world champion Layne Beachley from Australia. In the documentary, Layne says, “I was Gidget. I was only known as Gidget. When my dad went down to the beach and my brother went down to the beach, they were looking for Gidget.”

Another was Jericho Poppler, a U.S. champion and one of the first female surf pros. Brian recalls of the interview, “One of her youngest kids, it might be her youngest daughter, told us that they thought that their mom was the real Gidget because she surfed all the time.”

As for Kathy’s surfing, Brian says, “Kathy was never professional grade, she was good enough to have fun which is the important thing.”

Showing “Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story”

Brian shares that after finishing the documentary they went on the road. He recounts, “We started in Australia. We opened at Noosa Festival of Surfing, which they call the biggest surf festival in the world. It’s like Beverly Hills on the beach. The way that certain groups of surfers responded to Gidget… she had fans, real fans. Especially the Australians, Californians and Floridians response to Gidget was phenomenal. We met people who named their daughter Gidget. People wanted autographs and pictures taken with her. They really wanted her to stay.”

One thing Brian learned, “I discovered that Gidget was a liberating force. She was sort of a feminist but not in a formal way. She had boyfriends, she confesses that she was boy crazy for most of her life.”

During another showing of the documentary, Brian recalls, “When we had our U.S. opening at the Newport Beach Film Festival we got a fair amount of press. When we had the screening, a lot of older seniors who had looked forward to being there couldn’t get in because the theaters filled up. They were crying and some of the younger people gave up their chairs instead and stood in the back. Fortunately, we weren’t busted by the by the fire department; but wow, just a phenomenal response!”

Gidget Comes to Coronado with Documentary Screening and Q&A

Filmmaker Brian Gillogly, Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, and surf legend Jericho Poppler will participate in a post-screening Q&A on July 13.

Brian is looking forward to the documentary screening and Q&A that follows, “You never know what’s going to happen. Jericho loves to talk, she’s bright, I just learned a few months ago that she had a dance scholarship, a ballet scholarship, to UCI. She was an athlete on a lot of levels. She’s very well spoken, and she can read a room. She’s a good guest.”

Tickets for all Gidget Comes to Coronado events, including the screening of “Gidget” on July 12 and “Accidental Icon” and book signing on July 13 can be found here.

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Alyssa K. Burns
Alyssa K. Burns
Alyssa is a graduate of Coronado High School and was in the founding broadcast journalism class at CHS. She earned her BA in Communication from CSU East Bay and completed her MBA from CSU San Marcos. Her passion for writing and interest in the behind the scenes of business, leads her to write frequently about Coronado businesses. You can find Alyssa walking around the ferry landing with her husband and shih-tzu terrier or enjoying a cup of coffee at one of Coronado's favorite cafes.Have a story for The Coronado Times to cover? Send news tips or story ideas to: [email protected]

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